Merrill Powers - Providing psychotherapy, EMDR, counseling, and coaching in Auburn, California.
Office & voicemail: 530.852.5066
Fax: 530.888.8793
Merrill Powers, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LCS 19541
EMDRIA Certified EMDR Therapist in Auburn, CA | Approved Consultant-in-Training

Play/Art Therapy and Sand Tray

Why Children Play

Children's imaginative play is a direct expression of the self. It is our window into their world. Using play, they will show us everything that they feel, fear, and wish.

Children's play is fueled by the drive for mastery of their deepest current concerns. Children do not generally play about challenges they have already overcome, unless they are trying to distract and soothe themselves when they are very anxious, in which case they may gravitate to the familiar and comfortable, like hugging a teddy bear or rocking a baby doll.

Play "works" because pretending permits children to represent their fears while achieving optimal psychological distance through symbolization, and to then attempt to triumph over their fears in this miniature and magical world. No longer need they feel small, afraid, defeated, or alone. In their dramas, they can feel empowered, secure, and hopeful, and can have allies and protectors in the midst of the most frightening trauma.

Play therapy provides a medium for communication between the child and therapist. The therapist's reverence for this expression, in its simplicity or complexity, results in the child feeling completely accepted and contained. As the therapist empathizes with the protagonists in the child's dramas, the child feels increasingly supported, and the child's needs, fears, and traumatic experiences emerge more and more fully in the play. Through ongoing observation, hypotheses can be drawn about the bases of the child's behavioral or emotional problems. This assessment generally involves collaboration with the child's caregivers. Once a clear understanding of the child's problem is achieved, the therapist can provide informed suggestions to address the psychological needs.

In some cases, the child's healing occurs through this process alone. Children work out their fears and hurts in their dramas within this supportive relationship. In the miniature world of play, they find triumph and safety, they discharge their anger, they come to accept their losses, and they build new worlds based on their hopes and dreams.

For example, abused children may play for some time about little animals hiding, then about police shooting criminals, disguising all characters and events related to their abuse. In time, they can play directly about their trauma, identifying their perpetrators by name, arresting them, or telling them off.

In other cases, children lack the inner resources to resolve their underlying concerns unassisted. The play therapist then intervenes in the child's pretend world to help the child conquer these underlying fears and concerns. For example, some abused children feel too paralyzed with fear to play about hiding or self-protection. The play therapist gently introduces resolutions to symbolic frightening events into the child's dramas, until the child can achieve mastery by himself or herself.

Play techniques can be modified for use with older children, adolescents, and adults. In addition, art therapy can be used in a similar manner to play therapy. It is another means of allowing the unconscious mind to find expression to process and heal deeply held feelings, fears, losses, trauma, and conflicts. Both play and art therapy are incorporated into EMDR for children and teenagers.

Research & Infomation

Troubled Families and Children:

Children and teens can benefit from meeting with an understanding, compassionate, and above all, neutral adult who can help them to feel normal in their problems, to develop other perspectives, and to take responsibility...


Sexual Abuse and Assault:

While serving as Clinical Supervisor at Orange County’s Child Abuse Services Team (CAST), Merrill developed her expertise in helping traumatized children recover from sexual and physical abuse...


Play/Art Therapy and Sand Tray:

Why Children Play

Children's imaginative play is a direct expression of the self. It is our window into their world...


designed and maintained by Redlance